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DOMA Stories:
Federal Marriage Discrimination Hurts Families

GLAD is in court challenging the federal government's discrimination against legally married same-sex couples. In Gill v OPM and Pedersen v OPM, we represent couples and widowers who are harmed in various ways by DOMA. But DOMA hurts many more people than we can represent in these lawsuits.

In these stories, loving couples, widows and widowers, from all walks of life, describe how DOMA hurts their families.

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There is Nothing to Fear From Marriage Equality

Photograph of Steve Kleinedler

Steve Kleinedler

A year ago in March Steve Kleinedler’s husband, Peter Dubuque, passed away. Peter was 39, a Harvard University database architect with a BA in Russian language and literature; an outdoorsy sort, into photography, hiking, kayaking, and a devoted snowboarder. Steve and Peter had been together 15 years and married since 2004, when GLAD’s Goodridge case opened the doors for same-sex couples to marry in Massachusetts.

Though grieving, Steve managed to make all the necessary arrangements: the phone calls to funeral homes; notifying Peter’s place of employment; sending notices out about the memorial service. Painful as this was, Steve was heartened by the respect he received from everyone. From the EMTs who responded to his first desperate call, to the salesman at the phone store where he discontinued Peter’s account—everyone expressed their heartfelt condolences at the tragic loss of his husband.

Steve was so moved by this response that on April 23 he published an open letter to the community on Americablog where he and Peter were regular readers and contributors:

Coming of age in a time when AIDS felled so many so quickly, I was aware of far too many horrible, heart-wrenching stories in which the surviving partner was completely shut out and cast aside by next of kin. Now, we are legally next of kin. For all the wonderful things that marriage equality does for the living, it maintains our dignity in death. …

I am thankful for all of the couples, lawyers, advocates, and judges who have put so much energy into this struggle over the past many years, and to those who continue to do so until the goal of federally recognized marriage equality is met.

At last count, there were 22 responses to Steve’s letter—all of them expressing deep sympathy.  One comment, from robertnlee, reads:  “I never met many couples like Steve and Peter.  [It’s] like the whole universe was created, maybe, just so these two people would meet eventually.”  One comment was from littlesister, Steve’s sister in Michigan:  “I’m just glad that my brother in his time of grief and loss, doesn’t have to go through additional pain—because his marriage isn’t seen as real or legitimate.”

While Steve and Peter were legally married in Massachusetts, and while they were embraced by their family, friends, and community, the federal government doesn’t see their marriage as legitimate.

When asked about the lack of federal recognition due to DOMA section 3, Steve says, “Even though Peter and I were married in the eyes of the Commonwealth, we were denied all the potential benefits accorded to other married couples because the federal government refuses to acknowledge that we exist.”

Peter’s insurance plan at Harvard offered more coverage than Steve’s plan at the American Heritage Dictionary where he works as Supervising Editor, but rather than shoulder the taxes that would be levied on Steve’s coverage, they were forced to enroll in separate plans.

“It was particularly galling” Steve says, “filing taxes each year and having to check off ‘single.’  Each time I felt like I was committing perjury because we were in fact legally married.”

This double bind of married/not married results in confusion and frustration for tens of thousands of couples in the five states and the District of Columbia where same-sex couples can legally marry.

This is the reason why Steve Kleinedler felt like sharing his experience here in Massachusetts:  “I hope my story will help others realize that there is nothing to fear from marriage equality.  This irrational fear of same-sex marriage fades away when others learn the stories of specific couples.”

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